Free to Grow Special Report: St. Mary Parish, Louisiana

Free to Grow: Building Strength in America's Communities

This report by the Free to Grow National Program Office at the Mailman School of Public Health of Columbia University summarizes efforts to integrate Free to Grow into the St. Mary, La., Head Start program.

In 1992, Hurricane Andrew tore across the gulf and on to the shores of St. Mary parish, devastating many of the small wooden homes that dotted the area in close knit clusters. Hurricane Andrew followed on the heels of a different kind of devastation that had been brewing inside those same homes for several years: widespread drug use and dealing.

Despite these problems, the communities of St. Mary parish still had and continue to have resources and aspirations. The strong, caring and intense religious faith of many residents helped sustain a sense of hope throughout the parish and countered some of the more negative influences.